Michigan continues its March Madness march in the Sweet 16 Thursday against Oregon at 7:09 p.m.
But it has already been an impressive run for John Beilein's Wolverines, beating 10th-seeded Oklahoma State by a point in the first round and then topping second-seeded Louisville, 73-69, Sunday. The upset of the Cardinals marked U-M's 12th victory in the last 14 games.
The Wolverines are so hot that in an ESPN SportsNation poll asking who is going to win the title — after 5,512 ballots as of 3 p.m. — U-M received 15 percent of the votes to check in with the third-best chances of the remaining teams, trailing only Wisconsin (21 percent) and Kansas (18 percent).
After sophomore Moritz Wagner's career-high outburst of 26 points against Louisville, he was a popular person to shine the spotlight on, so here's what various media members are saying about what Wagner and what Michigan has done so far:
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"Wagner is one of college basketball’s most intriguing cases. He’s 6-foot-11, dexterous, agile, and can shoot. Last year, he didn’t show much, just averaging 2.9 points per game. He was raw, like you’d expect a rapidly growing German teenager to be.
"But there are few coaches better at molding a bag of offensive wonder than Michigan’s John Beilein, and he has taken a full grasp of Wagner’s talents. … He's like a video game character that has more weapons than any person could conceivably hold in real life — he needs a second to go to the weapons interface, pick which gun or melee item is best for this specific attack, and then he goes to work."
"The fairy-tale descriptions of Michigan's late-season surge will persist with Sunday's 73-69 win over Louisville, a 2-seed picked by many to reach the Final Four and perhaps snatch a third national championship for coach Rick Pitino.
"Now, the perception of this Michigan squad should shift because Moritz Wagner and the Wolverines could push this offensive monsoon — Michigan scored 40 points in the paint — to the Final Four in Glendale, Arizona.
"The Wolverines didn't look as pretty as the squad that nearly put 100 points on the board Friday against Oklahoma State. That's why they're certain threats in a Midwest Region that seems as conquerable as any in the field. They didn't need the 3-ball to beat a titan."
"The German big man was sensational on Sunday afternoon as he abused every mismatch that he was presented. He took the smaller defender into the post and scored with great touch while also stepping out onto the perimeter and knocking down the perimeter jumpers against slower opponents. … Wagner may have easily played his way into the first round of this year’s NBA Draft."
"The latest win in the streak is the greatest yet. The Wolverines rallied from a nine-point hole against the Cardinals, making all the right plays in the final 14 minutes.
"This one was unlike most of the previous victories in the winning streak. This was not point guard Derrick Walton Jr. carrying the team, as he so often has. This was not a strafing from the perimeter, like the 16 3-pointers Michigan dropped on Oklahoma State on Friday.
"This was Moritz “Mo” Wagner to the rescue.
"The sophomore center scored a career-high 26 points, repeatedly punishing Louisville for its switching man-to-man defense that often left guards trying to handle the 6-foot-11 German. The strategy was great for corralling Walton, who scored just 10 points – his fewest in more than a month. It forced someone else other than the hottest player in the tournament to beat the Cardinals.
"And Wagner was that guy. He scored on post-ups, on drives, and on one very big 3-pointer that gave Michigan the lead for good, 58-55."
"Oh, yes, Wagner can play. With a name pronounced like the composer — Vog-ner — his 26 points led the Wolverines to a 73-69 victory and delivered the apocalypse to No. 2 seed Louisville’s 2016-17 season.
"He did it because it was his turn, it was necessary, and he was prepared for the moment. Wagner scored 17 in the second half because Beilein took note of Rick Pitino's defensive approach and calculated that Wagner was the player most advantaged by the Cardinals’ commitment to erasing Michigan’s excellence from the 3-point line.
"… Down 36-28 at halftime, Beilein and his staff looked at the matchups they were dealing with and determined that Wagner had a greater advantage against centers Mangok Mathiang and Anas Mahmoud than power forward D.J. Wilson did against the Cardinals’ Jaylen Johnson.
"So that’s how they played it. Wagner drove the ball past the bigs and scored on layups. When he found himself on a switch to smaller defenders such as 6-7 Deng Adel, he established himself in the post and scored over them. Because any potential help defenders were stationed outside the 3-point arc defending guards Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin and Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Wagner only had to beat one guy."
"The plane scare, the skid-and-careen off the runway from a week and a half ago, has now in part catalyzed a six-game winning streak as charming and unexpected as anything we’ve seen in recent March history. This is already an all-time college basketball story.
"This piece is not over. Michigan is in the midst of providing America with a remarkable account of the power and uplifting nature of sports, no matter where the story ends. After the seventh-seeded Wolverines lost their minds from 3-point range Friday, getting over Oklahoma State in a thriller, another win for Michigan on Sunday. An enthralling 73-69 comeback win over No. 2 Louisville locked up a spot in the Sweet 16 for the 15th time in program history.
"Michigan’s second-round victory provides this NCAA Tournament’s most captivating arc. … Michigan is more than a great story. It’s a great team. A threat for the Sweet 16 and beyond. A team that once only scored 46 points on South Carolina now rates as nation’s fourth-best offense. A group that looked lethargic and discombobulated six weeks ago has now become a Final Four threat."
"Indeed. Nobody will ever forget this team.
"Because this is a story that keeps getting better.
"And now, the Wolverines are headed to the Sweet 16.
"This team is full of confidence and drive and grit and toughness and desire and belief. That belief might be the biggest factor.
"“Why not us?” Irvin asked, after the Wolverines had fought back, climbing out of a 36-28 hole at halftime to win.
"“Why not us?” Moe Wagner asked, after taking over this game and scoring 26 points.
"“Why not us?” asked just about everybody in that cramped, wet locker room.
"The Wolverines have goals that are bigger than this game.
"They are dreaming of getting to the Final Four.
"They are dreaming of winning the whole thing."
"Michigan boasts the best offense in the Midwest Region and perhaps the greatest offensive potential in the Sweet 16. The Wolverines demonstrated their versatility this week in Indianapolis when they scored 92 points in a win over Oklahoma State and then found a way to beat an elite Louisville squad despite making just six 3-pointers."
"The Wolverines were 14-9 overall and 4-6 in the Big Ten just six weeks ago. They were seemingly headed to the NIT, CBI or something other than the NCAA Tournament. But now look. They’re 12-2 in their past 14 games with eight wins over NCAA Tournament teams — including four victories over Sweet 16 teams. And they also survived a plane crash. Incredible, all around. Michigan plays Oregon Thursday in the first game of the Midwest Regional semifinals."
"And now U-M is off to the regional in Kansas City, despite Walton shooting only 3-for-13. He saved his best for last, however, with the lead cut to two and the shot clock winding down at the 30-second mark. His high arcing finish over two defenders and four, key Wilson free throws sealed the win.
"… There’s still work to be done, he noted, adding “why not Michigan?” when asked if he thought they could win it all.
"It’s a question more recruits should be asking themselves, as well. Beilein doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone anymore … not after several deep runs in the tournament, and Big Ten and tournament titles. Yet there are still those [or their handlers] who think U-M isn’t ‘big enough’ for them, or established enough … that perhaps Beilein is too “rigid.”
"He’s proven his offense is anything but, and anyone who’s seen the postgame locker room celebrations the last few weeks would agree he’s a guy who knows how to have fun in addition to coaching his players at an elite level. On Sunday he countered his players’ water bottles with a super soaker before the team went nuts in celebration.
"On Monday, though, it’s back to business. Wednesday they leave for Kansas City and a potential date with destiny, a Final Four
"“Why not Michigan?”
"At this point, it’s becoming harder and harder to find a good answer."
"5. This team has so many weapons, so many ways to beat you. Moe Wagner scored 26 points on Sunday. "That's been our identity in the last month and a half, finding different ways to win," Derrick Walton Jr. said. "Whether it's the three-ball or not, it's finding multiple different ways to win and taking what the game gives us."
"… 10. This team just believes it can win. It believes it will make every shot. And it believes it can bounce back from any adversity."
CBS Sports' Matt Norlander: Ranking all eight games in the Sweet 16 (U-M vs. Oregon was ranked fourth)
"This is going to be a fun game. Michigan’s offense is multifaceted and operating as smoothly as any team in the tournament, UCLA included. Oregon has a 1-2 attack from Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey that is good enough and cocky enough to vault the Ducks into the Final Four. Derrick Walton Jr. is trying to pull off his best Kemba Walker impression. Can’t wait for this one."
"The emergence of Walton as one of the elite players in college basketball can be linked to another success story for [executive associate athletic director Greg] Harden, who for three decades has served as a mentor, confidant and advisor for all of the boldfaced names in the Wolverine athletic department. He came to Michigan in 1986 at the request of Bo Schembechler, who valued Harden’s background in social work to address alcohol and drug problems. Since then, Harden has worked with everyone from Desmond Howard to Tom Brady to a volunteer assistant swim coach named Michael Phelps. Harden’s hair is far more salt than pepper, and in his 31 years at Michigan the 67-year old has shared blunt advice and deep bass laughter with everyone from Glen Rice to Mike Hart to Tim Hardaway Jr. “I wouldn’t be the person I am today without having Greg Harden in my life to help me with development,” said Warde Manuel, Michigan’s athletic director who arrived on campus with Harden in 1986. “There’s hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of student athletes—both men and women—who feel that way.”
"Derrick Walton is the latest and one of the greatest transformations of the man coaches refer to as “The Whisperer.” He refers to Harden as his “life coach,” the latest in a gilded line of Michigan athletes to seek and grow from his advice."
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